How Rodney Monroe will be remembered

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe will step down after seven years.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe will step down after seven years. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

He came in with crime high and questions buzzing about his resume. He leaves with a strong record of rebuilding community trust in the police department and his academic credentials an afterthought.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, who will retire July 1, had a number of bumps during his seven-year tenure in Charlotte. But his record is largely just what Charlotte needed it to be. On his watch, crime dropped, more officers were moved to the streets, public trust rose and the Democratic National Convention came off just about flawlessly.

When Monroe moved to Charlotte from Richmond in 2008, both violent crime and property crime were on a steep rise. Residents were frustrated and scared, and expected immediate change after the tenure of Chief Darrell Stephens. Stephens was a capable administrator but a quiet personality seen by some as too detached from the problems on the street.

Monroe brought a more aggressive leadership style and made immediate changes. He reassigned a number of veteran officers to gang units, and removed 89 of them from specialized investigative teams and put them on the beat. He also reached out to the community and had his officers do the same, building trust neighborhood by neighborhood. With a few exceptions, crime has dropped slowly and steadily for most of his time here. Some of that merely reflected national trends, but some of it is attributable to his approach.

The DNC was a massive undertaking for Monroe, and CMPD handled it well. Officers were everywhere, but calm, well-trained and not quick to overreact. Protests were peaceful and arrests were kept to a minimum.

Monroe acted quickly when Officer Randall Kerrick fired 10 shots at unarmed Jonathan Ferrell, killing him. The chief arrested the officer and charged him with voluntary manslaughter with unusual speed. That may have snuffed out a community uprising before it could happen. A criminal trial is scheduled for July.

We’ve questioned Monroe along the way, especially about his commitment to transparency. He and other city officials fought the release of 911 calls involving a rogue police officer, Marcus Jackson, who stopped and assaulted female motorists. He showed little interest in full disclosure of records related to teenager Delvonte Tisdale, who breached security at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and stowed away in the wheel well of a flight. He could have been more open about how stimulus money was spent on police equipment. And he defended the workings of the Citizens Review Board, a group that is expected to review how police handle questionable behavior by officers but sided with CMPD in every case.

Despite all that, Monroe led the force admirably. Some labeled him abrasive, but he brought a toughness the department needed.

When Monroe was hired, it was revealed that he hadn’t earned his degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, even though the job posting required a college degree. We criticized him at the time for how that was handled. In the end, he earned his undergraduate degree – as well as the respect, admiration and thanks of a growing, and largely safe, community. -- Taylor Batten